The company's debut webcam not only has it all, but does almost all of it well. But at $300, only power presenters and streamers might justify it.
Updated Aug. 2, 2022 6:00 a.m. PT
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Reviews ethics statement
Lori GruninSenior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
ExpertisePhotography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Insta360 is no newbie to cameras -- my colleague Josh Goldman said of the One RS recently "this might be the best consumer 360 camera ever made" -- so I'm not surprised at how good its first webcam turned out.
The Insta360 Link supports 4K resolution and 1,080 pixels, 60 frames per second. It has a three-axis gimbal for its automatic tracking, manual exposure controls that actually work and gesture support for zooming and tracking. Plus it offers four more atypical but useful modes: Portrait (vertical video), Whiteboard, DeskView (which toggles between a view of you and a view of your desktop) and Overhead (a view from above when it's mounted on a tripod). It juggles all these features while delivering the best image quality I've seen to date in a webcam.
The Link is available today for $300. That's a lot for a webcam, but it's not overpriced for its quality and features. The Obsbot Tiny 4K, my previous favorite, goes for $269. The Link is tinier than the Tiny, has a ton more features and better video. Streaming and conferencing in 4K isn't always practical, possible or even necessary, but if you want to record rather than go live, it's nice to have. I've awarded it an Editors' Choice, but it doesn't displace another recent Editors' Choice, the Dell UltraSharp Webcam 4K, simply because the Dell is over $100 cheaper. It lacks many of the Link's features, but if you don't need those features or best-in-class image quality you can save some bucks.
Make sure your hardware is up to it, though. I didn't see the usual USB 3.2-required notice anywhere, but you should definitely use the highest bandwidth USB port you have. Insta360 does warn you to either plug it directly into a system or a hub with a separate power supply. And after recording in 4K for a while, the base of the camera was uncomfortably hot when I plucked it from the top of my monitor. But even pro still cameras can overheat when recording video indoors. Physics!
Insta360 equips the webcam with a 1/2-inch image sensor, the largest available in a webcam. That plus the company's imaging experience let the webcam produce excellent video in brighter conditions and relatively good video in very little light -- it's still pretty noisy, but that's almost inescapable because, again, physics. By "excellent" I mean you get exposure optimized for your face, correct color and skin tone white balance (at least for my pasty white skin tone) and no wide-angle distortion around the edges.
As with almost every mid- to high-end webcam these days, the company touts AI for its tracking and automatic framing. It's kind of a meaningless claim at this point, but Insta360 has been using AI for its products for years, and the tracking and framing seem to work well in the Link. So there's that.
Though it lets you manually set ISO sensitivity (ISO 100 to 3,200) and shutter speed (1/30 sec to 1/8,000 sec) and create a custom tone curve, there's very little reason to use them unless you know what you're doing and have specific needs. Its phase-detection autofocus is snappy (contrast autofocus can be more accurate but it's iterative, which results in that "pulsing" effect you see frequently), tracking is smooth and you can save presets for position and zoom.
One reason there isn't much distortion is because the camera doesn't have the 90-degree field of view you see in the usual webcam (its horizontal angle of view is 69 degrees). If you need the webcam to cover a large swathe of your space in a single position, this isn't your best choice. But it's still wide enough to fit the equivalent of two people side by side at a typical desk-to-monitor distance or a small conference room.
The mics on webcams are generally nothing special, and while the Link's don't stand out as exceptional they don't stand out as bad, either. They do support noise reduction, which did a fine job of filtering out my loud air conditioner without making my voice sound compressed or overprocessed.
You can apply changes in the software while displaying video in another app, which isn't always possible in Windows. (Did I mention there's a Mac version of the software?) OBS got a bit cranky when I changed some settings, but deactivating the camera in OBS before changing things in the app that require a hardware reset like resolution or turning on Streamer Mode (to enable 60fps) or HDR was a sufficient workaround.
The webcam comes with four markers you place in the corners of a whiteboard. This allows the camera to identify it in Whiteboard mode, which processes the video to make it easier to read. Deskview mode lets you toggle between the camera pointed at you and pointed down to the desktop; in product briefings I've had the presenter frequently has to use a two camera setup to achieve it. And in 4K, you get a pretty sharp view. In both Deskview and Overhead modes, the image is oriented automatically so viewers see it the same way you do, which can minimize fiddling.
Though I've got nitpicks about the software -- I'd like to be able to change some of the defaults or create presets that incorporate exposure and other image settings -- It's generally easy to use and has minimal glitches. I do wish there was a toggle to rotate the camera vertically: Because it uses a gimbal, it automatically adjusts to keep the camera horizontal, so you can't force it to rotate. Instead, you have to rely on third-party software to handle it, but most software just creates a vertical crop of the horizontal image rather than actually rotating the camera.
The Insta360 Link isn't the appropriate webcam for everyone, but it's the right pick when the quality of your camera presence matters. Just make sure you can justify the outlay to the person who minds your budget.